ONA, Turnitin software site, offer aids for catching the most common plagiarism

New York – Whether in the B2B world or academic publishing, editors have their hands full battling plagiarists. Reports issued by the Online News Association and iThenticate, an arm of leading software provider Turnitin, can help, with coping tools based on a state-of-the-art analysis of that ethical enemy.

ONA’s new ethics code includes a “Plagiarism” module that describes several examples of ethical hanky-panky. One example — showing a case of an article playing fast and loose with PR announcements — often shows up in hastily compiled e-news sections. The most common tip-off: staff bylines tacked on to content where editing is of a copy-cat nature rather than any attempt at originality.  While not referring specifically to copy-cat formats, ONA’s module clearly defines the remedy:

“As busy as journalists are, it may be tempting to pass off writing from a news release as their own. While sources of the news releases may, in fact, be pleased to see their words replicated, journalism means more than parroting someone else’s words. Making clear what information comes directly from a release and what is original reporting avoids that pitfall. If you regard attribution as a matter of transparency with readers, rather than simply a courtesy to other journalists, it’s obvious why many news organizations require attribution of press releases.”

Resist temptation to self-plagiarize

Later on in the module, ONA tackles “plagiarizing from yourself or your publication.”

Among other points, there is “a legal discussion to be had regarding copyright – if your words for one publication are owned by that publication, you may have little right to use them for another publication.”

Beyond that, says ONA, there are other questions worth considering:

  • Do your readers deserve fresh material?
  • Is picking up “boilerplate language” – basic background material – from a previous piece in your organization plagiarism? What about cutting and pasting whole sections?
  • Does the amount of reused material feel like cheating?
  • Would crediting your source – even if it was a previous piece you wrote – hurt?

When addressing the above and other considerations, ONA advises editors to consider the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – “when assessing whether to credit another news outlet’s work. A similar consideration holds when sharing photos, updates or tweets on social media.”

If the original work is incorrect in some way, “having credited the origin also allows distance from the mistake should it need to be corrected.”

The main author of ONA’s Plagiarism module is Rachel Stassen-Berger of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. (Editor’s note: For a summary of two other module sections, see the accompanying article in this issue, “ONA ethics code committee invites comments pertaining to interviewing, social media issues.”)

Ten “unoriginality” types identified

On the academic/education news front, software provider Turnitin recently revised its descriptions of the ten most common types of plagiarism. The new version was presented by senior education manager Jason Chu during a recent webinar.

A prelude to the webinar observed that a new Plagiarism Spectrum “moves beyond the black-and-white definition of “literary theft” to one that captures “the nuances of how plagiarism can take form in student writing, with a severity scale based on student intent.” Input that led to the Spectrum’s identification of ten types of original work was gathered from “879 secondary and higher education instructors who provided data on the prevalence and problematic nature of each type.”

Listed below, in order of severity, are the ten types of unoriginal work:

  1. Clone. Submitting another’s work, word-for-word, as one’s own.
  2. CTRL-C. Containing significant portions of text from a single source without alteration.
  3. Find-Replace. Changing key words and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source.
  4. Remix. Mixing paraphrased material from multiple sources.
  5. Recycle. Borrowing generously from one’s previous work without citation.
  6. Hybrid. Combining perfectly cited sources with copied passages without citation.
  7. Mashup. Mixing copied material from multiple sources.
  8. 404 Error. Citing non-existent sources or including inaccurate information about sources.
  9. RSS Feed. Including proper citation of sources but containing almost no original work.
  10. Re-tweet. Including proper citation but relying too closely on the text’s original wording and/or structure.

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